Rabbi Sholom M. Rubashkin is pleading not guilty. According to his attorney, all Rubashkin wants…
…Is for the government to give him a "fair shake."
The Des Moines Register reports:
Meat plant's ex-CEO arrested in Postville
Rubashkin faces charges of conspiring to hire undocumented workers
By CLARK KAUFFMAN, GRANT SCHULTE and TONY LEYS
Postville, Ia. - The former chief executive officer of Agriprocessors Inc. has been charged with conspiring to hire undocumented workers at the Postville meat processing plant.
The arrest on Thursday marks the first criminal prosecution of a top-level Agriprocessors executive on charges related to a May 12 immigration raid at the plant that resulted in the detention of 389 workers who were in the United States illegally.
Court documents, including an affidavit by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Michael Fischels, accuse the executive, Sholom Rubashkin, of knowingly conspiring with others, for his own financial gain, to harbor undocumented workers in Postville.
Rubashkin, Agriprocessors' former chief executive officer, also is accused of aiding and abetting workers in stealing the identities of other people.
Rubashkin stepped down as CEO following the raid. His father owns Agriprocessors.
Rubashkin intends to fight all of the charges, his lawyer, F. Montgomery Brown of West Des Moines, said.
"This is a sad day for Sholom and his family," Brown told reporters. Rubashkin, the father of 10, "is going to plead not guilty, and all he asks is that the government give him a fair shake."
Prison, fines possible
If convicted on all of the charges, Rubashkin faces up to 22 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.
News of the arrest rippled through to Postville residents and to former workers now in Guatemala. Some raised concerns for the town's future; others expressed relief that Rubashkin was charged.
Rubashkin, 49, appeared in federal court in Cedar Rapids on Thursday afternoon after being arrested that morning at his Postville home.
Brown said he could not speak to the plant's financial troubles, including a $10 million fine levied this week by the Iowa Department of Labor. But the Rubashkins "are human beings; they feel for what's been taking place at the plant," he said.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, expressed confidence that they could prove their case against Rubashkin.
"The evidence against him is strong," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan Jr. Rubashkin "would likely face one of the lengthier sentences, compared to some of the others who have faced charges, should he be convicted," Deegan said.
Defendant silent during his hearing
Rubashkin walked into court shackled at the waist, wrists and ankles. He remained silent throughout the 10-minute hearing and embraced his family as he left the courthouse.
Rubashkin declined to comment. When met by reporters in the lobby, he smiled, turned around and said, "I'm going this way."
Prosecutors believe Rubashkin is a flight risk and agreed to his release only with conditions, Deegan said. The deal requires Rubashkin and his wife, Leah, to surrender their passports. Rubashkin will have to wear an ankle monitoring bracelet, offer a $1 million bond, and restrict his travel to Iowa's northern judicial district.
Brown said Rubashkin's cousin in Brooklyn, N.Y., agreed to offer his home to meet the minimum $500,000 security bond.
Some Postville business owners worried that the arrest would mean further financial troubles for the struggling plant, which in turn could hurt the northeast Iowa town. Persistent rumors that the plant might close have stoked broader fears about the local economy and population.
"Everyone here is really edgy," said Kim Deering, owner of the Wishing Well, a downtown gift and flower shop. "People think something is going to happen to the plant. They have all these astronomical bills. They've lost a lot of trust. But it would be devastating" if Agriprocessors left.
Darcy Radloff, Postville's city administrator, said Agriprocessors managers canceled a meeting Wednesday to discuss unpaid utility bills. Radloff said Rubashkin's arrest came "at a very difficult time" for the community.
The Rev. Steve Brackett, pastor at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Postville, said he believed the plant would survive, but it might have to change ownership.
Brackett and other religious leaders have spent the past several months caring for immigrant workers in the wake of the raid.
"Something's got to happen," Brackett said. "With the charges that are being filed, even if Agriprocessors is found innocent of everything thrown their way, they're spending a great deal of money on defense."
Meanwhile in Guatemala, Rubashkin's arrest drew praise from a former Agriprocessors worker who was detained in the May 12 raid, imprisoned for five months and then deported to Guatemala.
"I'm glad that the charges finally were brought," said Benjamin Sanail Zamora, speaking in Spanish. "It shows they knew what was going on."
Sanail, 30, spoke to a Des Moines Register reporter Thursday outside his small house in San Miguel Dueñas, Guatemala.
He said he had met Rubashkin several times during his 33 months working on the chicken-butchering line. He said that Rubashkin was never mean to him personally, but he claimed the Rubashkin family took advantage of the workers.
"I hope the law deals with him in the appropriate way," he said.
Authorities seek former supervisor
Sanail said the most ruthless Agriprocessors supervisor was Hosam Amara, who is being sought on undisclosed federal charges. Authorities have said they suspect Amara fled to Israel.
Sanail said Amara routinely abused workers, in some cases by making them buy overpriced cars from him in return for better shifts and working conditions.
The affidavit in the Rubashkin case says that about two weeks before the May 12 raid, supervisors at the plant were scrambling to buy new identification documents for workers.
Two plant supervisors allegedly met with Sholom Rubashkin on May 8 and May 9 and asked for $4,500 in cash to buy new identification papers for a group of workers.
The proposed scheme involved a loan, with Rubashkin fronting the cost of the new papers for the plant's workers.
According to the affidavit, Rubashkin agreed to lend the workers the money. On May 9 one of the supervisors was given $4,500 in $100 bills.
The money was then doled out to individual workers who allegedly gave the cash to a plant foreman who was making arrangements to buy the fraudulent papers.
Court records indicate that in addition to the cash, the workers also supplied the foreman with new names they wanted to use, as well as new birth dates and photographs of themselves.
Two days later, the foreman and one of the supervisors allegedly handed out the newly purchased documents to about 40 workers.
That evening, plant supervisors allegedly helped the workers fill out new job applications using their newly acquired identities.
According to the indictment, one of the people in the room when the new applications were being filled out has testified before a grand jury that Rubashkin also was there.
Fraudulent cards had the same source
When federal agents descended on the plant the next morning, they seized dozens of the fraudulent, newly completed worker-identification cards.
The agents determined that the vast majority of the cards came from the same manufacturer and included alien-registration numbers assigned to actual people.
The agents also concluded that some of the documents pertained to people who had been working at the plant long before the raid - although the names on the documents were different from the names the employees had been using.
Before the raid, Agriprocessors was the largest kosher meat-processing plant in the United States.
The feds have finally realized Hosam Amara is in Israel. Several months ago while interviewing the spokesman for the US Attorney, I mentioned Amara was in Israel. The government did not appear to know that.
Which cousin put up is house? Was it Duchman from Colel Chabad?